The College Republican National Committee earlier this week distributed Neville Chamberlain-style black umbrellas to eight GOP senators who voted against the MX missile. Now some of them have been sent back, along with written responses ranging from blistering anger to gentle scorn.
Delivery of the umbrellas followed the committee's distribution of a poster soliciting private donations for antigovernment "contras" in Nicaragua. Committee officials said Thursday that the White House ordered them to stop that. The White House has denied that the group was told to stop distribution.
A letter, signed by Ted Higgins, chairman of the college group, told the senators that their vote "reminded us of Neville Chamberlain's negotiation strategy with the National Socialist government of Germany in the late 1930s." The letter was hand-delivered along with a long wood-handled black umbrella.
Chamberlain, the prime minister of Britain in the years immediately preceding World War II, is closely associated with, and often criticized for, pursuing a policy of appeasement toward Nazi Germany.
Sen. Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.), one of the eight, was out of the country when the umbrella arrived, but his administrative assistant, Neal J. Houston, fired off a response that referred to the letter as "impudent, McCarthy-style." It recalled Stafford's service in World War II and the Korean war, along with his membership on the House Armed Services Committee before coming to the Senate.
"He, therefore, needs no sermons on patriotism from anyone in your position," wrote Houston, adding that Stafford probably would talk to party officials about the college group's use of GOP resources to attack GOP officials.
Sen. David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.) also sent back the umbrella along with a letter that ended with this P.S.: "I am returning the umbrella as I already have two. I would prefer a raincoat."
Sen. Nancy L. Kassebaum (R-Kan.) kept the umbrella and gave it to a staff member, writing back to the committee that "even though it is not American made (it is English), it seems quite nice." She then wrote the college Republicans a history lesson about events leading up to World War II.